Micachu & the Shapes and the London Sinfonietta - Chopped and Screwed - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Micachu & the Shapes and the London Sinfonietta - Chopped and Screwed

by Rich Morris Rating:6 Release Date:2011-04-04

London-based Micachu & the Shapes released their debut album Jewellery back in 2009. A dizzyingly inventive collection of songs, it managed the feat of simultaneously being a great indie-pop record and sounding like someone having a fit in a junk shop. Full of bewildering segues and fearsome explosions of noise among niggling hooks, it appeared to exist in some previously uncharted grey area between bedroom-based indie, grime and avant-garde experimentation.

Chopped and Screwed is not exactly a follow-up to Jewellery, at least not any kind of conventional one. This live collaboration with The London Sinfonietta, where the band's unconventional instrumentation is augmented with orchestral sounds, may on paper seem like a step towards the mainstream. In fact, it is anything but. The result is more like a quantum leap into another musical universe. Not for this band the tried and tested root of slapping some crowd-pleasing strings onto their tunes, a la The Manic Street Preachers or Oasis. Chopped and Screwed is a genuinely avant-garde and, frequently, intimidating record. Songs such as the puffing, groaning 'Low Dogg' resemble German noise-maniacs Faust or Einstürzende Neubauten. Meanwhile, the wistful, numbed 'Medicine Drank', it's title a reference to Houston hip hop's drink of choice (cough syrup), is an album highlight, sounding like a cross-between Blur's languid 'Miss America' and Bjork's similar orchestral experiments with The Brodsky Quartet.

This is also a far less ebullient work than Jewellery which, for all its churning and rumbling, located a carefree, breezy attitude on songs such as 'Golden Phone' and 'Vulture'. Here, only third track 'Everything' comes close to repeating that trick. A haze of buzzing, sawing strings, it somehow manages to be tuneful and almost summery. However, many songs, particularly 'Freaks' and 'State of New York', are forbidding dirges which unfold at a snail's pace and find singer Mica Levi delivering her lyrics in a muffled, lachrymose drone. This doesn't mean that they aren't also beautiful, inventive and absorbing works of art, but it takes time and investment from the listener to uncover their wonder. It won't come as a great surprise if some hipster-types who brought and enjoyed Jewellery have little time for the seemingly random squeaks and scraps which make up a large part of a track like 'Average'.

However, Micachu & the Shapes are to be applauded for having the cojones not to make their sophomore release a simple 'Jewellery but more commercial' proposition. I sincerely hope they retain a strong enough fanbase to keep making wildly brave records like this.

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